Tuesday, June 12, 2012

May 2012 at FTC

Right, so what have I missed out from events at FTC last month?

Well it was a big push on the household D.I.Y front.

The development of the chooks learning to high jump out of their run and the torrential downpours highlighting failings with the old temporary chicken roof pushed me into some serious coop renovation.

And so the old roof was removed;

A new framework was built;

And the new roofing sheets were screwed down;

After then digging out the bog that had become their run I gave them a nice fresh coverage of bark to scratch about in.  Don't they just look overjoyed!

With the chickens now safely tucked away I set about finishing the raised beds and getting the remainder of the gravel down  - which I'm pleased to say is now pretty much finished, and we even have a picnic bench in place!

The other big development to FTC last month was the kids bedroom.  It was decided that the spare room was to become the kids bedroom and Alfie's room the spare room.

This was the spare room, which had become something of a dumping ground. But that's the same for everyone, right?!

And so with the room emptied the underlay went down

And then the flooring, which Alfie absolutely loved ... as you can see.

And with the boy asleep in his new abode Tash built up the room for his awakening in the morning.

And whilst all that went on Esme largely focused on food.  Weaning has begun, and instead of having her weight gain start to plateau it has continued to rise.  My girls got proper rolls and creases!

Thursday, June 07, 2012

The Incident of the Sugar Coated Son

It was only a matter of time until it happened.  A stealth trip into Alfie's room in the depths of the night, I close the baby gate behind me on my way out only for me (in my not really awake state) to fail to realise the baby gate has not closed correctly.

Usually I would have placed money on Alfie having made straight for our room when he woke.  But this is Alfie, and he rarely does as expected.  And so this morning Tash and I awoke to hear the faint 'chink chink' of glass bottles downstairs.  As Tash dozily wondered "can he get to any bottles in his room?" I was already off down the stairs to see what he was up to.

And what was I greeted with?  Two (already) empty vokda bottles on the kitchen floor, Alfie sat on look-out with Harry under the stairs, and a kilo bag of caster sugar sat just outside their 'den'.

And it was then that I learnt;




Its not often he starts his days with a shower, but today was one such day.  And all before 7am.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

The Mad Hatters Macarons

It was many months ago that I spoke to Dawn and she said she'd really love for me to do the cake for Dale and her wedding ... but they didn't want cake, in keeping with the Mad Hatters Tea Party theme they wanted an array of biscuits and cookies.

So time passed, I had fleeting thoughts about what to do but kept coming back to the conclusion that macarons would be perfect for the occasion.

We were really busy in the build-up, and it wasn't until a few weeks before the wedding that I got to think about the finer details, and then the week before that we managed to do a few trial runs.

Oh yeah, and I'd never made macarons before!  My first two attempts were complete failures ... not in the end result but in the fact Esme always needed attention and the macarons ended up being made by Tash!  Although we were taking steps, we knew our piping nozzle was too small and the end results weren't quite as I was after.

And so it came to the week of the wedding.  After discussions with Dawn we'd planned some choc chip shortbread and then a range of macarons.  The plan was to design a range of macarons that tasted complely different to how they looked.  And so as the wedding week kicked off we were facing making 200 macarons consisting of choc orange (dark choc shell and green ganache), rose (blue shell with white ganache), spiced (green shell and dark choc ganache) and finally a 'peanut butter and jelly' (white shell with pink decoration and peanut butter and jam filling).

With making 200 I quickly learnt how things should look and what I was searching for ... and I knew I wasn't happy.  Everything on the net made them seem like some mystical baking challenge that can take years to perfect, and I even bought a wee book to help me!

I tried many things but I always felt my mixture was too thick and I ended up with too many 'nipples' on my shells.  Plus the difficulty of learning what setting the oven needed to be at and precisely how long to bake for to ensure the perfect shell.  There were just too many variable at this point!

Come Thursday night I did a load of reading on the net.  I still wasn't happy and I felt my sugar content was too low and mixture too wet.  I looked at loads of recipes and found a gem of information.  It was recommended to use egg whites that were 24 hours old, or give them a quick blast in the microwave to slightly reduce the moisture in the egg whites.  And so with a new technique and a new recipe I was confident all my problems would be solved.  I was up at sparrows fart to hit the supermarket - and 40 eggs and endless amounts of ground almonds later I was ready to get going.

I'm pleased to say it worked an absolute treat and Tash and I spent the whole of Friday (the day before the wedding!) pretty much making all new macarons.  There were some from previous days which were OK, but in general I was making them over again.  With each batch they got better and better and I think the final peanut butter and jelly ones looked fantastic!

One thing I've learnt is that everyone has a different recipe and a different oven.  You need to find a recipe that works for you and a setting/timing that works for your oven.

So here's how I do 'em;

3 egg whites
50g caster sugar
200g icing sugar
110g ground almonds

Step 1 - Stick your icing sugar and ground almonds into an electric mini grinder and give them a quick whazz.
Step 2 - get your egg whites in a suitable dish and nuke for 10sec at 50%
Step 3 - Get your electric whisk in action and go crazy on your egg whites until you call hold the bowl above your head and you don't end up wearing it.  Or stiff peaks, stiff peaks is fine.
Step 4 - Add the caster sugar a third at a time until you have a really sweet glossy mixture.
Step 5 - this is where you add and any flavourings or colourings to your mixture
Step 6 - with a 10mm nozzle pipe your macarons onto a baking sheet loaded with some baking pacrchment.  Shells want to be about 40mm in diameter
Step 7 - leave to form a slight 'crust'.  Likely to be 30-60 mins.  Basically you should be able to lightly touch the top and have no mixture picked up by your digit.
Step 8 - Get em into the oven - 11 minutes in your 150 degree preheated baking machine.
Step 9 - Take em out, let them cool a little, remove from baking sheet.

Now all you need to do is work out your filling!